Recommendations unveiled by the UK’s Law Commission are seeking to establish a new offense by criminalizing communications that could cause “likely psychological harms.”
Another offense that is recommended in the document concerns “knowingly false communications.” This is a serious threat to freedom of expression, and a chance for the authorities to get the last word on what is perceived as true and false.
The recommendation defines “harm” as something that causes “serious distress,” while “psychological harm” is also being mentioned. As for defining “serious distress” – the Commission refers to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
The proposed reforms are aimed at protecting victims of online abuse, but there are fears that the vague language and prioritizing subjective perception of speech over objective content could have dangerous consequences.
And the fact that identity and characteristics of the recipient of a communication is also given center stage leaves the door wide open for censorship based on identity politics.